Going Postal: Publishing Industry, WaPo Blogger Get Whacked

July 5, 2010, 2:08 pm

Publishing as we know it may soon take another hit if the United States Postal Service gets its way. According to the New York Times this morning, Postmaster General John E. Potter (not a relative of mine as far as I know) wants to raise the rates it charges to deliver periodicals in 2011. Currently, the USPS loses $7 billion a year, and Potter notes that periodical rates do not actually cover the cost of delivery. As those of us who are subscribers to progressive magazines and journals know, periodicals that favor content over advertising will be particularly hard hit by a postage increase, and will have to raise their subscription rates — thus risking cancellations.

The Magazine Publishers of America intend to litigate the increase, so with restraining orders and all, don’t worry about Mother Jones having to bite the bullet yet. However, as publishing is groaning under the strain of lost advertising dollars and increased production costs, the cost of postage may be one more push towards Internet-only subscriptions.
The other side of this, of course, is that the delivery of mail is critical to what it means to be a nation, and a foundation for national culture. The founders recognized this when, in 1775, they appointed Benjamin Franklin Postmaster General of the United States — even prior to declaring independence. In 1896, Congress marked the transition from empire building to nation building in the West and Southwestern states by establishing Rural Free Delivery.
But in 1982, in its wisdom, the Reagan administration decided that the USPS should run like a business and balance its books. Not that those things necessarily go together — but the Postal Service had never operated without a healthy federal subsidy and there was no reason to think that it ever would.
Whether we need to have as many magazines as we do, and whether they all need to — or should — be delivered by mail, is another question, and it ought to be addressed in a comprehensive way that takes many factors — not just cost — into account. Already it is possible to get numerous publications by Internet only if you choose to do so, and the amount of paper and fuel saved would be significant if publishers and readers had incentives to move to electronic formats.
There are industry-wide decisions that need to be made in publishing about how the vitality of American national culture is going to be maintained in this fiscal, ecological and technological environment. Is driving publishers out of business by threatening their subscription and advertising base even further the way to do it? Of course $7 billion a year is a lot of money. But would it be rude to point out that in fiscal 2010, the federal government will be spending over $10 billion per month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Postscript: In case you didn’t know that major newspapers don’t really know what blogs are for, click here for the stuffy WaPo firing conservative blogger Dave Weigel for making rude and juvenile remarks about conservatives on a private list serve. According to David Carr of the New York Times:
In comments made mostly before he was hired at The Washington Post three months ago, Mr. Weigel used the term “Paultard” to describe followers of Ron Paul and also suggested that Patrick Buchanan was “an anti-Semite” and that Newt Gingrich was an “amoral blowhard.” More recently, he wrote that Matt Drudge, the conservative aggregator and blogger behind The Drudge Report, should “set himself on fire.”
Invoking the mentally disabled as the equivalent of Ron Paul supporters was mean and in poor taste, but what exactly did Weigel say about Buchanan, Gingrich and Drudge that any number of people might not agree with? While the weirdness of conservatives gnawing on each other is always entertaining, I’m curious as to when it was exactly that firing people for being rude became the corporate reflex? Probably around the same time that celebrities I don’t know and don’t care about began apologizing to me for marital infidelity. If idiocy that bloggers don’t even post on their employer’s website is now a violation of industry standards, don’t you wonder why Maureen Dowd doesn’t get fired every day?
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